Interview of John Myatt
Art Forger Turned Professional Artist
By Charles Vincent Sabba Jr.
The artist, John Myatt, was involved in what Scotland Yard described as the biggest art fraud of the 20th century. John painted over 200 fakes of Giacometti, Klee, Chagall, and Van Gogh, to name a few. These paintings were then sold by a master con man that John was associated with. John was arrested, and in 1999, served four months of a twelve month sentence. When he was released from prison he swore that he would never paint again. The Scotland Yard detective who had arrested john commissioned him to paint a family portrait. This detective, who is now retired and one of Johnís close friends, helped convince him to return to his easel where he belongs. He is now fast becoming one of the United Kingdomís most accomplished artists. Here John Myatt discusses his art and the art world.
CVS- You had a show in May 2006 at St. Paulís Gallery in London. How did it go?
John Myatt- It was a great success! It was Lovely. The gallery wants to keep the unsold paintings on a semi permanent display. Eventually I will want to get them back though. I like to look at my old paintings with fresh eyes and possibly re-work them.
CVS- Tell me about your art studio.
JM- We have one room which is shaped like a dining room. I purposely put down an old carpet so I can get messy while I work. I go back and forth to the easels and paint gets splattered all over the floor and walls. I donít use a palette but mix my paints directly onto a table. It is rather interesting how the studio is set up. The house was built in the 1700s. When you leave my messy, worked in modern studio, you enter a very clean, old home with neat and tidy bookshelves.
CVS- What does your studio sound like? What kind of music do you listen to when you work?
JM- I listen to classical music; quite often Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, but usually Mozart.
CVS- Would you like to share any thoughts on the contemporary art scene?
JM- Iím not really part of that. I like to see all artists earn a living, but have no sympathy for the more challenging aspects of contemporary art. I view many of their operations more or less as stunts. Here in the U.K., the government sponsors the arts council. Public money is spent on the arts and they are afraid to look old fashioned, so they feel they must always promote art that is cutting edge. The government needs to leave contemporary artists alone to get on with it. Good art has always been commercial, even the old masters. Artists need to make a living, but when you have a Stalinist type approval in which the government approves the art to be chosen it distorts the process entirely. The government needs to get out of the art business. The whole thing is corrupted by politicians and art experts. Iím not in the business of calling art work rubbish, though. I like to see artists earning a living on their art. If they are supporting themselves on their art they are heroes.
CVS- Have you ever visited the huge Chelsea gallery district in Manhattan?
JM- We have not been to the gallery district. When we did get to New York, we spent a few days in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My time at the Met was well spent. I spent a lot of time studying Monetís Morning on the Seine because I had received several commissions to paint this picture. I noticed that hairs from Monetís brushes had fallen off and stuck to the paint. This was also happening to me as I painted this scene and I had been painstakingly removing the brush hairs. All in all, I like New York very much.
CVS- Many young artists in New York complain that Chelsea is a well greased money making machine and they believe that the conformist art world needs rebels. You certainly entered your art career on a devious path, that is to say, a less then normal road traveled. Do you consider yourself a rebel?
JM- In a way yes. What happened, the crime that was committed, did show that the whole system of experts and history of painting was silly and stupid. It made a lot of experts look silly. I quite like that. People are not ready to use their own eyes when looking at paintings. You donít need three years in a university before you can look at a painting and decide whether you like it or not. When you look at a fake, you feel all right saying you donít like it. Knowing it is a fake gives you the power to say ďI donít like itĒ or ďI like itĒ. When you look at an original painting you spend too much time reading the card on the sides, looking at the signature, listening to the audio. People think to themselves ďOh, I have to go and study this artist and this paintingĒ. We have to give people the confidence to look at paintings and just enjoy them. The last thing people want is to feel stupid, so they wait for someone to tell them what art to like and dislike.
Also, once you learn to like an artist, you canít afford to buy his paintings because the prices are too high. Money limits the choices; that is where I come in. I paint pictures that people can afford. When I paint an artists painting, it is quite hard to tell it from an original.
CVS- Do you get a lot of commissions from New York?
JM- I get some of my most astonishing commissions from N.Y. I think Americans are fantastic people and are a pleasure to work with. They have a nice sense of humor and I like that. What I do is funny and you have to laugh. A New Yorker recently commissioned me to paint a very large Picasso. If I painted it the size he wanted, I could never have carried it out of my studio. I told him that the painting could be no larger than 6 foot by 6 foot and he just laughed and stated ďthatís ok John. You do it as large as I want it and then youíll find a wayĒ.
CVS- You have mentioned Monet several times. As far as art history goes, who is your favorite artist?
JM- I would have to say Picasso. He had so many different periods to look at and choose from. He changed his artistic style almost every seven years.
CVS- That is a very interesting point. It causes great pain to contemporary artists that dealers, critics and collectors reject any change in their style. When an artist is known for his or her work, they are expected by the market to stick to it and suffer consequences if they change.
JM- Yes, they get trapped. It is sort of like getting stuck in prison.
CVS- So you love Picasso. I am very enthused about the early Paris days of Montmartre and Montparnasse.
JM- I would have loved to have been around in Montmartre at the Bateau Lavoir. I would have loved to spend time with all those artists like Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, as well as Apollinaire and all those poets. I would have loved to be there.
CVS- You mentioned Apollinaire. Do you have any favorite poets?
JM- I have not read much of Apollinaireís poetry. I like older English poets the most, such as John Donne.
CVS- Do you have any future exhibitions in line?
JM- I have one scheduled for December of 2007 on Dover St. in London.
CVS- I know you have been talking to television companies. How is that playing out?
JM- I am a little frustrated by it all. I have a good working routine in my studio. What I do is paint. I donít produce TV shows. Iíve been busy with the television producers and it is taking me away from my art work. When Iím not painting, I feel like Iím wasting my time. After the health and happiness of your family, the most important thing in an artistís life is his work.
In the introduction of Scenes de la Boheme, Henri Murger described true artists as ďÖa race of obstinate dreamers for whom art has remained a faith and not a profession; enthusiastic folk of strong convictions, whom the sight of a masterpiece is enough to throw into a feverÖĒ This is a precise description of John Myatt, who is a great artist and a good man. He is indeed a true artist of strong convictions and has dedicated his life to art. John has a more honest philosophy of art then most big players in the art world today and is forging his own path without concern for the conventional thinking of the contemporary art market, or the limitations it imposes on artists.
Johnís work may be viewed on his web site: www.johnmyatt.com.